Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

McCain and Obama: Principle versus Personality?

It seems that we’re going to be faced with a choice between principle and personality. By that I mean McCain’s up front theme is the importance of principles. I’m not talking about his particular positions on, say, global warming or what to do about high oil prices (with which most libertarians and Objectivists would disagree) I’m talking about his advocacy to adhere to broader principles of integrity, courage, and honesty. True, he also maintains the importance of committing to something larger than oneself, which drives Objectivists and many libertarians nuts. I’m not dismissing these disagreements with McCain’s principles and how this can affect his positions on things. What is clear through all of this is his profound love of this country.

Meanwhile it seems that Obama is mightily impressed with himself as witnessed by the pompous stage setting for his acceptance speech and his behavior. Obama has done a good job of marketing himself up to this point as an agent of change while touting the same tired message that the government is the cure-all for the “ills” of the market. He has also done a good job (with the media as accomplices) distancing himself from his father’s socialist background (see, his choices in associates (such as Bill Ayer, Reverend Wright, etc.), and his voting record (See Obama has also managed to make his strong liberal views sound downright centrist without getting into specifics. It’s almost as though he is speaking on two levels with his vague generalities. To people who know the depth of Obama’s liberalism they hear the code loud and clear. To people who aren’t ideologues they are swayed by his personality, delivery and his noble sounding generalities.

For me with the looming threats of Iran, North Korea and now Russia in addition to the continuing menace of terrorism I’d rather put a man like McCain in office than Obama. The later feels he can deal with our opponents by talking to them, like he’s Oprah interviewing a guest on her show. And, in looking at the voting records of McCain and Obama it’s obvious that McCain, despite his warts, votes much more consistently to protect our rights than Obama has. Again, see for a side-by-side comparison of their voting records.

So we ultimately will have a choice between McCain who believes we should serve our country in order to protect and improve it versus Obama who wants us to sacrifice ourselves to everyone else, both foreign and domestic. On the surface it appears there is no fundamental difference between the two. McCain asks us to serve our country while Obama wants us to serve others in general. I think buried in this is a key distinction. McCain is not denying that we have a right to be happy or to pursue happiness. (At least I haven’t found any quotes to that affect.) I think he believes we need to put the interests of the U.S. first because protecting this framework will ensure our freedom and our ability to pursue our values. I’ll admit that maybe this is wishful thinking and might be too generous but I think his voting record supports what I’m saying. (I am starting to read his Worth Fighting For to see if my theory is correct or not.) I have provided some lengthy quotes below rather disrupt the flow of this post.

On the other hand I’m confident that deep down Obama does indeed want to change us … into another more consistent welfare-state with a heavily government regulated market that is more in line with the “enlightened” European-model where we can’t drive our SUVs, have to turn down our thermostats and can’t eat as much. (This is paraphrasing a quote from him.) Kind of intrusive, isn’t it? I think he is ultimately uncomfortable with and ashamed of the self-interest that drives us. It doesn’t take much digging to find the collectivist intellectual influences in Obama’s life that would explain his antipathy to self-interest.


As mentioned above here are some quotes from McCain to illustrate his general themes.

From his book Character is Destiny,

It is your character, and your character alone, that will make your life happy or unhappy. That is all that really passes for destiny. And you choose it. No one else can give it to you or deny it to you. No rival can steal it from you. And no friend can give it to you. Others can encourage you to make the right choices or discourage you. But you choose.

From Faith of My Fathers,

Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles. No misfortune, no injury, no humiliation can destroy it. This is the faith that my commanders affirmed, that my brothers-in-arms encouraged my allegiance to… It was my father and grandfather's faith. A filthy, broken man, all I had left of my dignity was the faith of my fathers. It was enough".

From The New York Times July 13, 2008 interview. When asked what kind of conservative he is, a Goldwater, Reagan or G. W. Bush conservative McCain replied:

A Teddy Roosevelt conservative, I think. He’s probably my major role model, we could go back to Lincoln, of course. In the 20th century Teddy Roosevelt. I think Teddy Roosevelt he had a great vision of America’s role in the 20th Century. He was a great environmentalist. He loved the country. He is the person who brought the government into a more modern – into the 20th century as well.

I believe less governance is best governance and that government should not do what the free enterprise and private enterprise and individual entrepreneurship and ¬¬ the states can do. But I also believe there is a role for government. If there is abuses, TR was the first guy to enforce the Sherman anti-trust act against the quote trusts that were controlling the economy of America. Because I believe his quote was unfettered capitalism leads to corruption. So there certainly is a role for government but I want to keep that role minimal. And I want to keep it in the areas where only governments can perform those functions.

Government should take care of those in America who can’t care for themselves. That’s a role of government. It’s not that I’m for no government. It’s that I’m for government carrying out those responsibilities that otherwise can’t be exercised by individuals and the states -- that’s the founding principles of our country -- and at the same time recognizing there’s a role for our government and society to care for those who can’t care for themselves, to make sure there are not abuses of individual rights as well as the rights of groups of people and to defend our nation. And National Security is obviously No. 1.

From The Washington Post:

Enter public life determined to tell the truth; to put problem-solving ahead of partisanship; to defend the public interest against the special interests; to risk your personal ambitions for the sake of the country and the ideals that make her great. Keep your promise to America, and you will keep your honor. You will know a happiness far more sublime than pleasure.

From Reason magazine, “Be Afraid of President McCain, The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick” by Matt Welch, April 2007. The quote below picks up at the point during McCain’s captivity in North Vietnam when he had his personal epiphany.

After two weeks of particularly severe beatings in 1968, he recorded a forced confession—though not before half-heartedly attempting suicide—and then plunged into inconsolable, shame-wracked despair. “They were the worst two weeks of my life,” he recalled. What pulled him back from the brink was not the stubborn individuality that had sustained him through the years but the selfless encouragement of his fellow prisoners, who told him he did the best he could even while giving him strength to do better next time. “I discovered in prison that faith in myself alone, separate from other, more important allegiances, was ultimately no match for the cruelty that human beings could devise,” he wrote. “It is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have ever learned.”

Submerging and channeling his individuality into the “greater cause” of American patriotism became McCain’s reason for living. “I resolved that when I regained my freedom,” he wrote in Faith of My Fathers, “I would seize opportunities to spend what remained of my life in more important pursuits.”

“I have learned the truth,” he writes in Faith of My Fathers. “There are greater pursuits than self-seeking.…Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself.”

That “something” is the “last, best hope of humanity,” the “advocate for all who believed in the Rights of Man,” the “city on a hill” once dreamed by Puritan pilgrim John Winthrop (whom McCain celebrates in Character Is Destiny). Any thing or person perceived as tarnishing that city’s luster has a sworn enemy in the Arizona senator. “Our greatness,” he writes in Worth the Fighting For, “depends upon our patriotism, and our patriotism is hardly encouraged when we cannot take pride in the highest public institutions, institutions that should transcend all sectarian, regional, and commercial conflicts to fortify the public’s allegiance to the national community.”

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